Gangs were a huge problem in the streets of the Victorian East End. Indeed, in the early stages of the investigation into the Jack the Ripper murders, it was believed by the police that the crimes were being carried out by one of the gangs of London that were believed to be operating extortion rackets in the district.
Emma Smith, the first Whitechapel murders victim, for example, had been attacked in the early hours of the morning of Tuesday the 3rd of April, 1888, and, before she died, she was able to tell the doctor who treated her at the London Hospital that she had been attacked by a gang of youths.
Her statement would influence the early stages of police investigation into the later Whitechapel murders that are now attributed to Jack the Ripper.
THE GIRL GANGS OF LONDON
When we think of gangs, we do tend to think of their members as being male.
But, there were, in fact, female gangs of criminals operating in London at the time of the Whitechapel murders and on into the 1890s and beyond.
The Sheffield Evening Telegraph, on Friday, 26th September, 1890, published an article about one such gang of female “roughs” that had terrorised a poor woman who had simply gone out to purchase a loaf of bread:-
A GANG OF GIRLS AND THEIR LEADER
“A virago of 14, by the name of Alice Williams, who, it was stated, possessed the “fighting qualities of a man,” was charged at the Thames Police Court yesterday with assault.
She was described as the leader of a gang of girls of about her own age, who waylaid and ill-treated persons in the streets.
The special charge for which Alice was placed in the dock was that of attacking a woman, named Mrs. Kate Endleberg.
PURCHASING A LOAF OF BREAD
The latter, whose intention it was to purchase a loaf bread at a baker’s shop located in Nelson Street, in Stepney, was suddenly surrounded by the gang when she was about to enter the shop. The prisoner then sprang upon her and dragged her to the ground by the hair of her head, the poor woman being severely ill-treated, and her face being cut by a blow from a stone.
The success of the assault appeared to give the young damsels fresh courage, for finding Mrs. Endleberg powerless, they stole her shawl, and made off.
WAS JUSTICE SERVED
After these facts had been fully detailed in open court, Mr. Dickinson thought the justice of the case would be adequately met by the imposition of a fine of five shillings.”
A GIRL’S CHARACTER
Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, on Sunday, 16th January, 1898, published the following story about a girl of fourteen who had, evidently, come under the malign influence of one of the local gangs:-
“Sophie Bellinger, a girl of 14, was charged’ at Worship Street Police Court, yesterday, with having stolen as purse containing ten shillings in gold and some silver and other moneys from the person of Sarah Candler, a married woman.
The prosecutrix was in Cambridge Road shopping late on the night of the 7th, when her pocket was picked of her purse, and the girl, who ran away at the time, was captured later.
THE GIRL OF TEN HOOKS
Police Sergeant Holmes, 42 J, gave a history of prisoner, showing that she had been twice or thrice charged with stealing, and was generally known in the neighbourhood in which her parents lived as “the girl of ten hooks”, since everything she could take she stole.
Her father said that he was afraid to chastise the girl for fear that he might get prosecuted by some society, and he wished her got into a reformatory.
On previous occasions when charged she had been let off on her parents promising to look after her.
GOT ABOUT WITH A GANG OF GIRLS
Her mother came forward and asked that her daughter might have another chance, saying that she had a place for her to go to where the people would look after her.
She admitted that her daughter had got about with a gang of girls, and was out of her control.
Mr. Cluer said that the girl must either go to a reformatory or to prison. She seemed a practised pickpocket.
If, however, the mother could prove that some good persons would take the girl and look after her, then he would give her another chance.
For the present he remanded her.”